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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Unification Church plan raises fears on Big Island

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

KEAHOLE, Hawai'i — Plans by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church to establish a boarding high school in North Kona have raised alarms about zoning issues and the organization's potential influence on the community.

The church's Pacific Rim Education Foundation has requested a county special-use permit to build the school on 30 acres makai of Mamalahoa Highway in Pu'ukala that is zoned for agriculture.

The Hawai'i County Planning Commission granted opponents' requests for a contested case hearing, although a date for the hearing has not been set.

Foundation President Joe Tully said Moon initially considered a site in the Marshall Islands but decided instead to build a regional school on the Big Island, with students from Hawai'i making up about 20 percent of its enrollment. While there would be differences in emphasis, he said the proposed High School of the Pacific would be much like Hawai'i Preparatory Academy in Waimea, which counts Tully among its alumni. Students would be recruited from 12 Pacific island nations whose prime ministers and education leaders have written letters in support of the school, Tully said.

"This is better for the community than a bunch of new subdivision homes," he said.

Guido Giacometti, who represents homeowners at the luxury Makalei Estates near the proposed high-school site, said granting the permit would amount to spot zoning. Among his concerns is the impact on traffic in the rural area. Water supply is another issue.

North Kona resident Laura Bollinger also believes the school doesn't belong there.

"Wrong place," she said. "This is not about religion for me, though it may be with others."

Moon founded his church in 1954 in Seoul, South Korea, and made a push into the United States in the 1970s. In 1992, he declared himself the second coming of Jesus Christ. The Unification Church claims 50,000 U.S. members and 3 million worldwide.

The church, which has built up a vast financial empire, has been labeled a cult by critics who have condemned its recruiting methods and mass weddings.

In a letter to the Planning Commission, resident Kimberly Evans called Moon "a convicted felon," referring to his 1982 conviction for federal tax evasion.

Peter and Anne Madsen wrote to the commission on their concerns about the possibility of large religious gatherings and mass weddings.

That is not in the plans, according to Tully, a 30-year member of the Unification Church.

Sidney Fuke, a former county planning director who is acting as a consultant to the Pacific Rim Education Foundation, said the religious issue is irrelevant to the project.

The high school would consist of three parcels in the Kona Ocean View subdivision, two already purchased by the foundation and a third that is in the process of being acquired. Seven buildings would be built, including classrooms, a dormitory, an auditorium and a sports field.

Construction for the first phase would cost between $4 million and $6 million. Tully said the school would have a $3 million annual operating budget and would serve all faiths, cultures and ethnic groups.

If plans go forward, the 2004-05 school year would have a freshman class of about 50 students. When all grades are phased in, enrollment would be about 200.

Reach Hugh Clark at hclark@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 935-3916.